Saturday, September 13, 2008

Response to my email about why I support Barack Obama for President

Yesterday afternoon, I was typing an email in which I wrote, "If Obama loses the election, I will be inconsolable, but at least I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and say 'I did everything I possibly could'." And then I realized that I wasn't doing everything I possibly could. Other than giving and raising money, the other thing I'm pretty good at is spreading articles and ideas via email -- and my Obama email list has only 300 or so people on it. I say "only" because my largest email list, related to my investing business, has over 5,500 people on it.
For obvious reasons, I usually don't mix politics and business in my mass emails -- in fact, I've never once done it -- but made an exception this time because I feel so strongly. Last night, I sent out an email (see below) to more than 5,500 people -- and the response has been quite remarkable. More than 100 people have already asked to join my Obama email list (I also gave people the option of joining my school reform list), but a dozen or so people took offense and sent me nasty emails, saying Obama is unqualified, a socialist, yada, yada, yada, and seemed offended that I'd sent the email. Here was one email:

I did not know your organization was in the business of politics, especially trying to influence decisions?

I have always viewed Mr. Tilson as rational and balanced and am shocked at this email.

I've long been a fan of VIS, but I won't be renewing my subscription in the future.


Here was my reply:
I find your response puzzling. You seem to want to punish me for sharing my political views -- in what I thought was a very polite, low-key way (it wasn't like I was bashing McCain or anything like that).
I think pretty much every American would agree that it's healthy for our democracy when citizens get engaged in the political process and, when they feel strongly about a candidate, try to spread the word. For example, I would applaud the effort if someone I knew contacted me to tell me why I should vote for McCain.
Best regards,
With so many people joining my email list, I thought it would be a good time to update the email I sent out 18 months ago, right after Obama declared his candidacy, regarding why I support him -- it's posted at:

Email I sent out last night:

Dear friends and readers,

In addition to my investing emails, I also have two other email lists that might be of interest to some of you: articles and commentary about the Obama campaign (of which I am a supporter) and about school reform. If you’d like to be on either list, just reply to this email; if not, you won’t hear from me again about this.

Regarding the former, I first met Barack Obama more than four years ago on June 7, 2004, a few months before he became a household name after his famous speech at the Democratic National Convention. (In fact, when my friend sent me an email that day asking, “Would you like to come with me this evening to a fundraiser for Barack Obama?”, I had no idea who he was or what office he was running for!) But after meeting him that night, I went home and emailed my friends the following:

“A few years ago, I said that Cory Booker would be our first black President. I was wrong -- he'll be our 2nd (only because of his youth). I met the first tonight: Barack Obama, who is running for the Senate in Illinois. He is strikingly similar to Cory – young (42 vs. Cory's 35), brilliant, eloquent, visionary and able/willing to cut across political lines.”

Since then, I’ve read both of Obama’s books, heard him speak at a handful of events and had dinner with him once, all of which has convinced me that he is the real deal and is the best bet to bring about the new direction that our nation needs.

Regarding school reform, I believe that the most important domestic issue facing our country is the mediocre performance – and, in many cases, outright failure – of many of our public schools. We are falling further and further behind our international competitors and, within the United States, there are vast educational inequalities.

Today, four million children – mostly low-income children of color – attend a school that has been identified as failing for six consecutive years. The result is that 58% of black and 54% of Latino 4th graders are functionally illiterate – they cannot read a simple children’s story – and the average black and Latino 12th grader reads and does math at the same level as white 8th graders. The large number of failing schools and the resulting vast achievement gaps are the shame of our nation. Tens of millions of our children, especially low-income children of color, are not being given a fair shot at the American Dream, which I believe is one of the fundamental promises of this great nation.

I’m convinced that most people – even well-read, concerned citizens – are simply not fully aware how catastrophically bad inner-city schools are. Yet there is reason for optimism: many schools, spending less money, are taking the same children, providing them with an excellent education and sending 80% or more to four-year colleges.

Over the past 18 years of being involved in efforts to improve educational opportunities for all American children – first, helping Wendy Kopp start Teach for America and then in my current roles as Vice Chairman of KIPP charter schools in New York, one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform and the founder of the Rewarding Achievement (REACH) program – I’ve read a great deal, collected hundreds of articles and studies and written extensively on the topic. To share what I’ve learned, I have an email list and have created this web page (, which links to the most compelling information I’ve identified, collected and written, to assist those who wish to learn more about this topic.

Sincerely yours,



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